👋 Good Tuesday morning!
President Joe Biden announced on Monday that he will designate Qatar as a “major non-NATO ally,” calling the move “long overdue.” The announcement came during a meeting with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani at the White House.
That designation enables greater weapons sales as well as increased participation in joint exercises and operations. Other MNNAs include Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Bahrain, Morocco, Pakistan, Kuwait and Tunisia.
UAE Ambassadors Yousef Al Otaiba and Lana Zaki Nusseibeh penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal calling for the U.S. to relist the Houthis as a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization. “This would help choke off their financial and arms supplies without restricting humanitarian relief for the Yemeni people,” the ambassadors argue. “The Houthis essentially have designated themselves as terrorists — the U.N., U.S. and every other responsible nation and international organization should do the same.”
Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, told Jewish Insider that “Iranian pressure” on the Houthis may have prompted the Yemeni militia group’s recent strikes on the United Arab Emirates, which he called “a very dangerous turn of events,” given that the UAE had previously withdrawn from Yemen.
Reed added, “We just have to make more of an effort to try to stop the humanitarian crisis. And I think the designation [of the Houthis as a Foreign Terrorist Organization] is not as critical at the moment as taking positive actions to stop the violence.”
Reed also said that he could be supportive of sending defensive aid, such as an Iron Dome missile-defense battery, to the UAE should the UAE request it. “I think defensive weapons systems are important. Dubai International Airport is one of the most significant transportation centers in that area that could be threatened,” he explained.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), a co-chair of the Abraham Accords Caucus, told JI, “These reprehensible actions are an attempt to jeopardize the progress made between Israel and UAE towards peace, and they warrant a swift response.”
The congresswoman added, “The recent attacks on the United Arab Emirates by Houthi forces in Yemen raise serious concerns about the Biden administration’s decision to delist them as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. Since being delisted [as a Foreign Terrorist Organization], the Houthis have rejected good-faith efforts towards diplomacy and targeted innocent civilians in the region… President Biden should immediately reverse the dangerous decision to delist the Houthis as a terrorist organization.”
Ninety-six Jewish federations and Community Relations Councilssent a letter to Senate Foreign Relations Committee leadership urging them to hold a hearing for Deborah Lipstadt, the nominee to be special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, in light of the recent attack on a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas.
The letter reads, “This latest, horrific attack makes clear that the Senate must expeditiously confirm this position so that America’s diplomatic corps has an able leader to combat the global threat of antisemitism.”
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing today on the coup in Sudan. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Mary Catherine Phee and USAID Deputy Administrator Isobel Coleman are set to testify.
An Amnesty International report released today accusing Israel of apartheid against Palestinians has drawn condemnation from Israel and some U.S. Jewish groups.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry yesterday called on Amnesty International to withdraw the report. “This is a report which would be preferable not to publish at all, given that it does not respect those who truly value and are trying to project human rights,” the ministry said. In a video published to Twitter, the Foreign Ministry accused Amnesty of quoting “lies shared by terrorist organizations.”
“I hate to use the argument that if Israel were not a Jewish state, nobody in Amnesty would dare argue against it, but in this case, there is no other possibility,” Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said.
Jewish Federations of North America President and CEO Eric Fingerhut strongly condemned the report, saying it “promulgates false claims against the Jewish state, irresponsibly distorts international law, and advances hateful and disparaging rhetoric associated with age-old antisemitic tropes, while ignoring or whitewashing violence, terror and incitement committed by Palestinians.”
The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial board slammed the report as “a libel that distorts history” and a “denunciation of the very existence of Israel as a refuge for the Jewish people.”
Actress and TV personality Whoopi Goldberg apologized for making comments about the Holocaust that sparked outrage on a recently aired episode of “The View.” The Shoah, Goldberg said, was about “two white groups of people,” noting that the Holocaust “isn’t about race… it’s about man’s inhumanity to man.”
“I should have said it is about both. As Jonathan Greenblatt from the Anti-Defamation League shared, ‘The Holocaust was about the Nazi’s systematic annihilation of the Jewish people — who they deemed to be an inferior race.’ I stand corrected,” Goldberg tweeted.
“The Jewish people around the world have always had my support and that will never waiver. I’m sorry for the hurt I have caused,” she added.
Ritchie Torres to pick up Riverdale in latest redistricting
New York Democrats revealed a new proposed redistricting plan on Sunday showing that the 15th Congressional District, now represented by Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY), will expand northward to include the heavily Jewish neighborhood of Riverdale. “I am looking forward to representing a congressional district that serves as a bridge between iconic neighborhoods: the South Bronx and Riverdale,” Torres told Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel. “Combating antisemitism and advocating for an abiding American-Israeli relationship have long been passions of mine. To have the opportunity to represent Riverdale, in light of those passions, feels like a marriage made in heaven.”
Vote of confidence: Torres, a former New York City councilman who has already built a sizable Jewish support base, is no stranger to Riverdale. “He is a principled, independent-minded Democrat who will be an excellent representative of the diverse population that lives in our neighborhood,” former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), who lives in Riverdale, told JI. “It will be good to have a congressman who is a liberal Democrat who strongly supports Israel.”
‘Sigh of relief’: Though the map has yet to be finalized, supporters of Torres are coordinating a fundraiser in Riverdale on Feb. 17 ahead of Torres’ first planned trip to Israel as a congressman. “People are excited,” Harry Feder, a former president of the Riverdale Jewish Center who lives in the district and is helping to organize the fundraiser, told JI. “Everyone is breathing a sigh of relief.”
Banishing Bowman? The warm reception stands in contrast with the lukewarm manner in which Jewish community leaders in Riverdale have accepted their current congressman, Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), an influential progressive who assumed office last year after unseating a prominent pro-Israel stalwart, former longtime Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY). Bowman has at times found himself at odds with Riverdale’s Jewish community over his approach to the Middle East, which includes support for conditioning U.S. military aid to Israel.
Engel’s angle: For his part, Engel, who is also a resident of Riverdale, said he has spoken with Torres “several times” since he was elected and would be “ecstatic” if the freshman lawmaker were to represent him in the House. “I think, intrinsically, he has a good, warm feeling toward the U.S.-Israel relationship, and that’s just not something that we have seen recently,” he said in an interview with JI. “He’s delighted to have Riverdale, and Riverdale is delighted to have him.”
Rabbinic approval: Rabbi Avi Weiss, the founding rabbi of the Modern Orthodox Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, said he was “delighted” by the possibility that Torres would pick up Riverdale as a result of redistricting. “Torres,” he told JI in a recent email, “is the real deal: a leader who believes in the inestimable value of all people while passionately and unequivocally supporting the State of Israel.”
lone star progressive
Running against DSA member, Texas’s Eddie Rodriguez pitches himself as a ‘progressive that actually makes progress’
With Texas’ primary elections less than two months away, state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez is working to carve out a lane in the competitive Democratic primary race in the state’s 35th Congressional District, which includes parts of both Austin and San Antonio, a now-open seat following the state’s redistricting, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports. Up against a San Antonio city councilwoman and a Democratic Socialist member of the Austin City Council known as a prominent advocate for a range of left-wing policies, Rodriguez is hoping to position himself as a “progressive that actually makes progress,” pointing to his long record in state government.
Going national: Rodriguez has served in the Texas state House for nearly 20 years, but broke through to the national stage last year when he led a delegation of Democratic Texas state lawmakers to Washington, D.C., to lobby Congress on voting legislation and block a quorum in the state legislature on restrictive voting laws being advanced by Texas Republicans. “It was really impactful to me… All the battles that I’ve fought here in Texas, they can be won or lost at the national level,” Rodriguez said in an interview with Jewish Insider last week, reflecting on the delegation to D.C. “I could see that these folks have the power to make the change, to do what they need to do to help constituents back home.”
Pro-Israel: Rodriguez warned that some in the Democratic Party have also gone “too far to the left” in a way that is “ultimately going to be hurting our party” on Israel policy. “The United States, and in particular its elected leaders in Congress, must state unequivocal, full-throated support for Israel. Anything less is dangerous, unethical and counter-productive to peace,” Rodriguez said in a policy paper on Israel provided to JI. “Political space between the U.S. and Israel has real ramifications by emboldening Israel’s and America’s enemies, restricting progress of the peace process, and endangering countless civilian lives.”
Kinship: “My family’s been in South Texas since before Texas was Texas, frankly… We were in the majority as far as Hispanics in McAllen, but the white folks there in McAllen, they ran the show, they ran everything,” he said. “When I was in Israel, I really saw with the [Israeli] people there, they felt that’s where they’re from, that’s where they’ve been for thousands of years and yet they’re surrounded by people that don’t want them there.”
Split position: In a position paper, Rodriguez called the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran “well-meaning but insufficient” and said that any future deal should “go beyond the prior efforts that slowed, but failed to fully stop, Iran’s nuclear program.” When he was asked about the Iran deal and negotiations during his interview, Rodriguez said that he does not trust Iran but, “generally, I would support those discussions” and “generally speaking, I would support the deal.” When pressed, Rodriguez appeared to revise his initial comments, saying, “We should have discussions, but I think that the deal as it is right now, I think, probably is not great.”
State of play: Austin City Councilman Greg Casar, the DSA member, led Rodriguez significantly in fundraising at the end of 2021, having brought in $468,000 to Rodriguez’s $251,000. Casar also has more cash left to burn, with $356,000 on hand at the close of the last quarter, compared to Rodriguez’s $220,000. There has not yet been any independent polling in this race, but two polls conducted by Casar’s campaign show him leading Rodriguez by more than 20 points. Rodriguez said his campaign’s polls show a much closer race, but the campaign declined to make their findings public.
Five books to read in February
In the sixth installment of a series exploring new and upcoming books, the team at Jewish Insider previews top titles coming out in February:
The Books of Jacob, by Olga Tokarczuk (Feb. 1): In her latest book, acclaimed Polish author Tokarczuk, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2018, tells the story of a self-proclaimed Jewish messiah in the 18th century who converts to Islam and then Catholicism, before becoming a proto-Zionist.
American Shtetl: The Making of Kiryas Joel, a Hasidic Village in Upstate New York, by Nomi Stolzenberg and David Myers (Feb. 8): Stolzenberg and Myers look into the history, internecine rivalries and constitutional court battles of the Orange County enclave founded a half-century ago and named for the late Satmar Grand Rebbe Joel Teitelbaum.
Sledgehammer: How Breaking with the Past Brought Peace to the Middle East, by David Friedman (Feb. 8): Friedman, who served as U.S. ambassador to Israel during the Trump administration, takes readers behind the scenes of the formation of the historic Abraham Accords, which normalized relations between Israel and several Arab nations.
Today’s SAPIR contributions come from Israel, attacking challenges both inside and outside the Jewish state.
New Jews: Ofir Haivry sees opportunity despite the downward trend of Jewish engagement in the Diaspora. “Rather than manage decline, it’s possible that Diaspora communities could follow the Israeli path of striving to recover the pride and particularly the energy of Jewish identity — including among those with only partial Jewish ancestry. Notwithstanding its many critics — and with its very real faults — Israel has now become the undisputed focus of identification and cultural capital for the vast majority of Jews worldwide. It has dramatically transformed the way Jews are viewed around the world. Antisemitism still abounds, often now wearing the garb of anti-Zionism. But at the same time, there has also been an unprecedented development on the opposite front: There is exponential growth in the number of non-Jewish individuals and communities who are proud of having some Jewish descent or affinity.” Read here.
Existential Education: Dan Ben-David calls for critical education reform for Israel’s future. “When an increasing number of Israelis receive a third-world education as children, they will be able to maintain only a third-world economy as adults. This cannot support the first-world abilities needed to defend Israel in the world’s most dangerous region. Demographically, Israel faces a democratic point of no return, after which laws and systemic reforms already extremely difficult to pass and implement will cease to remain political options in future Knessets and governments. While education is not a sufficient condition for safeguarding Israel’s future, it is certainly a necessary condition. If this issue is not addressed comprehensively nationwide — and very soon — then an Israel unable to defend itself will not become a third-world nation. It simply will not be.” Read here.
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🇨🇳 China Concerns: The New York Times’s Ben Hubbard and Amy Qin delve into China’s deepening economic engagement in the Middle East amid a pivot by the Biden administration that has limited U.S. involvement. “Chinese state-backed companies are eyeing investments in a maritime port in Chabahar, Iran. They have helped to finance an industrial park in the port of Duqm, Oman, and to build and operate a container terminal in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates’ capital, as well as two new ports in Israel. Such moves reflect Beijing’s view of the Middle East as crucial to its Belt and Road Initiative, a sweeping plan to build international infrastructure to facilitate Chinese commerce.” [NYTimes]
🇦🇫 Abandoning Afghanistan: The Atlantic’s George Packer looks at the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and efforts by current and former service members to evacuate Afghans who had assisted American troops in the two decades since the U.S. entered the country. “It took four presidencies for America to finish abandoning Afghanistan. George W. Bush’s attention wandered off soon after American Special Forces rode horseback through the northern mountains and the first schoolgirls gathered in freezing classrooms. Barack Obama, after studying the problem for months, poured in troops and pulled them out in a single ambivalent gesture whose goal was to keep the war on page A13. Donald Trump cut a deal with the Taliban that left the future of the Afghan government, Afghan women, and al‑Qaeda to fate. By then most Americans were barely aware that the war was still going on. It fell to Joe Biden to complete the task.” [TheAtlantic]
🛑 Sanctions Relief? In Foreign Policy, Cornell University’s Nicholas Mulder ponders the efficacy of sanctions as he looks at the history of its use to achieve political change. “As a coercive tool, it is deployed all over the world, against governments from North Korea to Venezuela and from Iran to Belarus. There is scarcely a foreign-policy crisis that arises today in which U.S. policymakers do not resort to sanctions. In the wake of its withdrawal from Kabul last year, the U.S. government froze more than $9 billion in Afghan state assets to punish the Taliban. Earlier this month, it slapped sanctions on the Serb nationalist Milorad Dodik for destabilizing Bosnia. Sanctions are also the chief instrument with which the Biden administration and its European allies are currently trying to deter Russian President Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine.” [ForeignPolicy]
👨⚖️ What’s in a Name: In Tablet, Nathan Lewin — formerly president of the American section of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists — recalls the gifts the association bestowed upon Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer when they were appointed to the Supreme Court: framed art associated with their Hebrew names. For Ginsburg, “The event was held just before the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, when the Book of Ruth is read in synagogues. Capitalizing on this calendrical coincidence of the festival and Ginsburg’s name, we presented the new justice with an antique engraving of Ruth gleaning in the fields of Boaz.” Keen to present Breyer with an equally meaningful gift, Lewin asked the justice to find out his Hebrew name. “He is Shlomo ben Yitzchak. I was captivated. Shlomo ben Yitzchak is the name of the most renowned and authoritative commentator on the Bible and the Talmud — Rashi… When we reached the presentation, I began by disclosing to the gathered dignitaries that the justice shared a Hebrew name with the greatest commentator in the history of Jewish learning. Aided by modern computer technology, I noted how frequently ‘commentary’ had appeared in opinions Breyer had written as an appellate judge.” [Tablet]
Around the Web
☎️ Diplomacy Calls: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with both Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas yesterday to discuss regional issues.
✉️ Extremist Violence: Lapid responded to an open letter by seven U.S. Jewish organizations that recently denounced violence by Jewish Israeli extremists in the West Bank. The foreign minister wrote to the groups that the government is “committed to cracking down on acts of violence wherever they occur and whoever is committing them.”
☢️ Nuclear Deal: The U.S. and its European allies are close to restoring the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, according to Biden administration officials, The New York Times reports.
🚓 Vandalism Spree: Chicago police are investigating a number of instances of vandalism at Jewish businesses and synagogues on the city’s Northwest Side over the weekend.
💰 Funding Frenzy: FTX Trading announced it raised $400 million in its latest round of funding, which founder and CEO Sam Bankman-Fried said will go to the company’s expansion.
💸 Betting Big: The Wall Street Journal looks at how two strategic pandemic-related investments by Pershing Square founder Bill Ackman’s — one at the beginning of 2020 and the other at the end of that year — pulled in $4 billion for the hedge fund.
🖼️ Looted Art Returned: France will return 15 works of art, including pieces that were on display in the Louvre and Musee d’Orsay, to Jewish families whose relatives sold them under duress during WWII.
⚖️ Court Reversal: A Cypriot court overturned the conviction of a woman who was accused of fabricating allegations that she was gang-raped by a group of Israelis in 2019.
👮 Leaving the Scene: The top Arab Muslim officer in Israel’s police force resigned after video was released that showed him leaving an active crime scene without providing assistance to an injured man.
🗳️ Poll Patrol: A new poll in Michigan’s 10th Congressional District found former Senate candidate John James leading the Republican field and Judge Carl Marlinga leading on the Democratic side. Palestinian-American candidate Huwaida Arraf, who has Israeli citizenship, received support from 3% of Democratic primary voters.
🪖 Officers Disciplined: Two Israeli military officers were removed from their positions and a third will be censured following an internal army investigation into the death of a 78-year-old Palestinian-American man who was found dead after being detained by Israeli forces.
🖊️ Letter Writing: Ten GOP senators sent a letter to President Joe Biden last week urging him to fully enforce U.S. sanctions on entities purchasing oil from Iran and tankers facilitating that trade.
⚖️ SCOTUS Situation: Georgetown Law School suspended recently hired professor Ilya Shapiro following comments by the constitutional law expert that in pledging to nominate a Black woman to fill an upcoming Supreme Court vacancy, President Joe Biden was nominating a “lesser Black woman” instead of “the objectively best pick.”
🗞️ Punching Up: Punchbowl, the media startup founded by Politico alums Jake Sherman, Amanda Palmer and John Bresnahan, brought in $10 million in revenue in its inaugural year, Sherman revealed on Brian Morrissey’s “The Rebooting.”
📱 Wordle Win: The New York Times Company has bought the viral word game Wordle for a price “in the low seven figures,” it said Monday.
🕯️ Remembering: Actor Leonard Fenton, who portrayed Dr. Harold Legg on the popular British series “EastEnders,” died at 95. Cheryl Aronson, vice president of engagement at Hillel International and a longtime official at Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP), Boston’s Jewish federation, died at 58.
Pic of the Day
Four shofar players at the opening of Israel’s Expo 2020 national day yesterday in Dubai.
President and part-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, he was previously president of the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals, and as a high school student he attended Ner Israel’s Israel Henry Beren High School and Yeshiva University High School for Boys, Stan Kasten turns 70…
Vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Malcolm I. Hoenlein turns 78… Partner in the LA-based law firm, Fredman Lieberman Pearl, Howard S. Fredman turns 78… Midtown Manhattan physician, affiliated with Lenox Hill Hospital, specializing in nephrology and internal medicine, Mark H. Gardenswartz, MD turns 72… Composer and conductor, he is the laureate conductor of the Chappaqua Orchestra, Michael Jeffrey Shapiro turns 71… Far Rockaway, N.Y., resident, Maurice Lazar turns 71… Publisher of Baltimore Jewish Life, Jeff Cohn turns 68… Artist born in Derbent, Russia, now living in Albany, N.Y., his oil on canvas paintings contain many Jewish themes, Israel Tsvaygenbaum turns 61… Deputy director for policy and government affairs at AIPAC, David Gillette turns 61… EVP and chief program officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Becky Sobelman-Stern turns 60… A 25-year veteran of the Israeli foreign service, now a scholar-in-residence at American University in Washington, Dan Arbell… One of Israel’s top soccer players of all time, now chairman of Beitar Jerusalem, Eli Ohana turns 58… Actor, comedian and producer, Pauly Shore turns 54…
Voting rights and election law attorney, he advises the DNC, DSCC, DCCC and the DGA, Marc E. Elias turns 53… Mid-Atlantic regional director for AIPAC, Tara Brown… Managing director of Pickwick Capital Partners, Ari Raskas… Experimental jazz guitarist, bassist, oud player and composer, Yoshie Fruchter turns 40… Talk radio host and author, Adam Charles Kokesh turns 40… Comedian, writer, actress and illustrator, best known for co-creating and co-starring in the Comedy Central series “Broad City,” Abbi Jacobson turns 38… Managing director of client partnerships at Axios, Andrew Friedman turns 35… Sportscaster and sports reporter who covers the New York Mets for SNY, Steven N. Gelbs turns 35… Health services deputy at Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Stephanie Beth Cohen turns 33… Member of the U.S. House of Representatives (D-CA-53), Sara Jacobs turns 33… Resident physician in the Ob-gyn program at Emory University School of Medicine, Alisha Sara Kramer turns 32… Brand marketing manager at Smore, David Aryeh Leshaw turns 31… Actress and model, Julia Garner turns 28…